INTERVIEW WITH MANIK SARKAR
Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar is the lead campaigner for the Left Front in the assembly elections. With few days left for polling, he is addressing around two to three meetings a day across the state.
Manik Sarkar, who came into politics through the student movement, emerged as a key leader of the state after becoming chief minister for the first time in 1998 when Dasarath Deb stepped down due to old age. Since then Manik Sarkar's record as chief minister has been exceptional to say the least. Tripura today is a role model for not only entire North East but to many bigger states also in terms of pro-people governance.
In an interview to N S Arjun of People’s Democracy at the CPI(M) state committee office on February 7, Manik Sarkar expressed full confidence about forming the Seventh Left Front government after the polls as people were supporting the Left Front from the core of their hearts.
Below are excerpts from that interview:
(Q) With polling to take place in a week's time, what is your assessment of the election scenario?
Manik Sarkar: The response from the common masses to Left Front's election campaign has been unprecedented. Rival parties supporters and workers are coming and joining our Party in big numbers. Even today in Sabroom sub-division, 64 persons joined our Party, among whom included one PCC member. People are supporting us from the core of their hearts due to their own experiences in terms of bringing peace in the state, strengthening democracy by decentralisation, improvement in their quality of life etc. There is also their experience of the Congress-led UPA II government's anti-people, pro-rich policies. That is why they are responding positively to our appeal to vote for Left Front for peace, democracy and continuity of pro-people developmental works.
(Q) What are the major achievements of the Left Front government in the last five years?
Manik Sarkar: The most important achievement has been the complete restoration of peace that had been shattered due to extremism. At one point of time Tripura and terrorism were synonymous. People had lost confidence and those with ability were deserting the state by migrating to other states. It was a continuous and tough struggle. Many of our ministers, MLAs, block samithi chairpersons, Party cadre, sympathisers and also commoners lost their precious lives in this struggle. The vigorous development work undertaken by us even in interior tribal areas has helped in countering extremists with the help of people. Now, Tripura is identified as a state of peace in the entire North East. The President of India decorated Tripura Police with President's Colours for outstanding success in combating three-decade old insurgency and ensuring there were no human rights abuses. Tripura is only the fourth state to receive this honour since Independence. This successful overcoming of extremist problem has been possible because of the role played by common people, both tribals and non-tribals.
Another major achievement has been the protection of the secular fabric of our state. Although Tripura is a small state, it is home to people belonging to Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist religions apart from tribals. We have ensured people's right to free expression of their religious beliefs. The Left Front government has no religion and therefore it treats all religions equal. We try our best to help and cooperate with them during their functions. This is very important because today this sort of secularism is under attack at the national level.
(Q) During our tour in interior parts of Tripura, we found good infrastructure in terms of schools, health centres, office buildings, bio-gas plants etc. In many places, construction activity is going on. Being a small state, how has the Left Front government been able to achieve this?
Manik Sarkar: This has been possible due to strengthening of democracy by taking it to grassroots. We decentralised power which was concentrated at ministers and bureaucrats level and placed it in the hands of grassroots bodies. I can claim with humility that our 3-tier panchayat system is one of the best performing panchayat systems in the country. We have empowered people through decentralisation of power. Other than this, the formation of Tripura Tribal Autonomous District Council (TTADC) has been an important vehicle for empowerment of people at grassroots level. One can well understand the democratic atmosphere prevailing and the political consciousness of people by the fact that there is over 90 per cent polling during elections. In this the role of women has been very very important.
The quality of life of our people has been improving day by day due to the development work carried out by the Left Front government. We have made progress in agriculture and allied sectors, power generation, connectivity, health care and education, safe drinking water, modern sanitation etc. As per a survey conducted by union finance ministry and Central Statistical Office in 2004, the per capita income in Tripura was Rs 24,394. The same organisations in their survey in 2011 found that it had increased to Rs 50,750. This increased purchasing power of people is reflecting in different aspects of our society like trade, commerce, agriculture, food consumption etc. However, we are telling people that the state is developing fast but we are not yet satisfied with this. We need to improve further the quality of life of people, particularly the rural poor.
The disadvantaged sections of our society, the SC, ST, OBCs suffered the most during Congress regime. We have implemented special programmes to overcome their social, economic and cultural problems and these have yielded good results.
(Q) In the neo-liberal economic regime, the state governments have in general experienced a squeeze on their finances. In such a situation how has the Left Front government managed to achieve so much in terms of infrastructure development and welfare schemes for the people?
Manik Sarkar: The main reason is the Left Front government has ensured strict financial discipline.We are managing our finances and resources in a very cautious manner. We had austerity measures right from the beginning. Salaries of our ministers and MLAs are perhaps the lowest in the country. Whatever resources we have, we are utilising to the last penny with all seriousness. There is full transparency in spending and if there is any charge of corruption, we jump on it and take strict action if it is found true. Misuse of money is not tolerated. Empowerment of people through decentralisation has also helped in preventing leakages of scheme funds. Another important reason is that our good performance is helping us to force the central government to release our share of funds.
(Q) We found educated graduates without job in some of the villages we visited. With a vibrant education system in the state, how big is unemployment problem a challenge for the Left Front government?
Manik Sarkar: Generation of employment is a burning national problem now. Here in Tripura there was no development of infrastructure during Congress regimes and it set us back by many years. Without infrastructure in place, industrialisation that provides jobs cannot happen. And unemployment problem cannot be solved just by providing jobs in the government sector. As you know the centre has a ban on recruitment for many years and today there are over 40 lakh central government jobs lying vacant and which would lapse in the coming years. The Left Front government, despite pressure from centre against recruitment, has provided many jobs in the government sector. In the last four years alone we provided over 25,000 jobs. In 1972 at the formation of Tripura state, there were only 27,000 government jobs. Today, we have over 1,61,000 employed in government sector.
Apart from this, we are eagerly waiting for the road linkage to Chittagong port in Bangladesh from Sabroom in Tripura, which is a distance of around 70 km. Discussions are going on between governments of India and Bangladesh regarding this and we are hopeful it will fructify in the coming period. Once this access to port comes, it will be a big thing for Tripura. Discussions about the proposed 11 km rail linkage between Agartala and Akhaura in Bangladesh are also in final stages and will improve connectivity further. There is also a move to have air connectivity between Agartala and Dhaka. If all these things happen, and I am hopeful that they will happen, then all our locational disadvantages will be turned into advantages. Tripura will become the gateway to East Asia.
(Q) About the recent natural gas finds in Tripura, what is the situation?
Manik Sarkar: Tripura is a big reservoir of natural gas. ONGC, GAIL and one private corporation are currently carrying out further exploration work in the state. The quality of gas found here is also very good. On the basis of these gas finds, ONGC has set up a 730 MW power generation project. Some private parties have come forward to set up more gas-based power projects. But we are discouraging it as we want to use gas for fertiliser industry and other purposes also. When we combine these developments with the quality human resources, highest literacy rate and increased purchasing power among people, we have a strong basis for industrialisation in the state. Investors are now coming forward to set up industries in the state and this process will strengthen in the coming period.
(Q) Lastly, your comment on the recent incidents linking Congress to extremist elements in the effort to disrupt peace in the state.
Manik Sarkar: Well, you see Congress is getting isolated at national level and here in our state. They are unable to keep their house in order and at the same time they are unable to remain out of power for so many years. So, they tried to repeat what they did in 1988 election this time also by promoting extremists. But they have been caught red-handed trying to incite extremists to strike terror before elections. Their alliance with INPT, which is nothing but a political mask of extremists, also exposed their intention. After they have been caught red-handed, we are also keeping our people on high alert. There is no room for complacency in this regard.
February 17, 2013